The day after Laverne’s 83rd birthday, Belinda, her cat of twenty-seven years looked her in the eyes, gave a sigh, and died.
“Well old girl,” Laverne said cradling her dead cat, “we had a good run didn’t we.”
Now Laverne didn’t want to get another cat, she figured she’d probably die before it did and she knew her son’s wife would never allow him to take it, so she decided to have Belinda stuffed. She called Bob G. at Sportsman’s Bar and got the name of the taxidermist now retired who’d done the moose head hanging on the wall and the bear standing by the door. According to Bob G. the widower Stinky Dan still did some stuff, he’d just recently done the fox Merle shot; the one who’d been eating his chickens. Merle had the fox stuffed snarling, stuck a pole in him, and posted him at the side of the coop.
Stinky Dan wanted to stuff Belinda standing but Laverne didn’t want that. She wanted her lying on her side curled in a crescent shape, head lifted, ears perked and face alert. Dan grumbled that it was an unusual request, sitting or standing or about to attack was what people usually wanted.
“But that’s not what I want,” Laverne said.
Stinky Dan studied her over his glasses.
“My wife was a pain in the ass to,” he said.
“Why’d you retire?”
“Cause I’m old and I want to fish,” he answered. “Seven days, go home.”
Seven days later Laverne returned cat carrier in hand. She was pleased with what Stinky Dan had done with the body but not the face. Belinda’s eyes were glassy, her mouth was slightly ajar, and the tip of her bubble gum pink tongue stuck out a little.
“I don’t like the face,” Laverne said, “she looks demonic.”
“Laverne,” Dan began.
“I said I don’t like the face, you have to change the face.”
Stinky Dan told her it would cost more but Laverne told him she’d call Better Business and complain. She also said she’d tell everybody in three counties he’d treated her mean, right after she called Sportsman Bar to let them know he tried to take advantage of an old woman on a fixed income. Stinky Dan threw up his hands.
“Two days, get out,” he said.
Laverne stopped to have a scotch with Olive on the way home. Olive was the only person she’d told about having Belinda stuffed because Olive was her age and understood things like that. Her son and daughter-in-law wouldn’t get it at all. There were in finance in Chicago, owned a winter home, a summer home, a gold lab, two children and were absolutely no fun at all.
“They’ve got all these things and no fun,” she said to Olive. “My son used to be fun before he married that girl.
“Fuck ‘em,” Olive said.
They toasted, did a shot. Olive refilled their Flintstone jelly jar glasses. They did another shot, the breezes played the bamboo chimes in the trees.
“What am I going to do if you die before me?” Laverne asked.
“Die the next day, I suppose,” Olive said, and the two old women laughed so hard tears rolled down their cheeks.
The second time around Stinky Dan really caught the sweetness that was Belinda, her soul was right there in her face.
“I swear I can hear her purr,” Laverne said.
Stinky Dan was wiping his hands off on a filthy rag.
“You’re an artist, a true artist,” Laverne said as she tenderly loaded Belinda into the carrier.
Stinky Dan pushed his glasses back into place with a grimy finger
“Would you like to have dinner sometime?” He asked.
“Okay,” Laverne said.
Olive died a week later, peaceful, in her sleep. When Laverne woke up the day after she said, “Oh fuck dear friend I’m still alive.”
“I know it sounds crazy,” she told Stinky Dan when he showed up at her house after the funeral to pay his respects.
“The shoe fits,” Stinky Dan said, which made Laverne laugh.
Her son and his wife looked up disapprovingly from across the room. Laverne’s tiny house was three counties full of people eating, drinking, talking, milling around.
Stinky Dan took Laverne’s hand, he wasn’t smelling stinky today, he’d showered, shaved, had on clean clothes, an ill-fitting brown suit and a thin faded blue tie.
“You want to go steady?” He asked.
Two years later they’re still going steady, they’re spotted pretty regular in the three counties at the Piggly Wiggly and the Rite Aid and the Sportsman Bar, and it’s been mentioned that Stinky Dan rarely lets go of Laverne’s hand and they kiss a lot. Trapper Eric Holermman arrested the two of them for skinny-dipping in the quarry, Laverne’s son was scandalized, and Olive laughed so hard she shook heaven.
(Illustration by Pierre Bonnard)